As an African American, I am outraged by the singling out of Arab Americans
and Muslims following the terrorist attacks.
Throughout the country, there have been reports of the harassment, beatings
and killings of Arabs and South Asians. Muslim women and children are afraid
to leave their homes and wear their traditional clothing in public for fear
of becoming the targets of racial violence. And men deemed to be
"Arab-looking" have been removed from airplanes after passing through
Outside of Detroit, a 45-year-old U.S. citizen originally from Yemen was
shot 12 times in the back by his girlfriend's former lover. The suspect
reportedly told the victim: "I'm going to kill you for what happened in New
York and D.C."
The FBI is investigating the murder of Waqar Hasan, a 46-year-old Pakistani
grocer in Dallas, and authorities cite racial hatred as the motivation
behind the killing of Balbir Singh Sodhi, 49, an Indian Sikh gas-station
attendant in Mesa, Ariz. When he was arrested, the suspect in the Mesa
killing reportedly said, "I stand for America all the way!" The FBI is also
investigating the killing of an Egyptian-American grocery-store owner, Adel
Karas, 48, who was shot to death in his store in San Gabriel, Calif.
In Seattle, the federal government has charged a man with shooting at Muslim
worshipers and attempting to set a mosque on fire. In Salt Lake City, a man
was arrested for allegedly setting fire to a Pakistani restaurant. And there
have been several other cases.
Rep. John Cooksey, R-La., did not make things better when he declared on a
radio show that "someone who comes in that's got a diaper on his head and a
fan belt wrapped around that diaper on his head, that guy needs to be pulled
over." Cooksey later apologized.
On a Northwest Airlines flight from Minneapolis to Salt Lake City, three
Arab-American men were expelled from the plane because of their ethnicity.
Northwest removed the three men when the other passengers refused to fly
with them. In Orlando, Fla., two Pakistani businessmen were removed from a
flight they had boarded after the pilots insisted on their expulsion due to
their perceived ethnic background.
In times of war and national crisis, Americans often have felt the need to
find a scapegoat. Typically, these scapegoats have been members of racial
and ethnic minority groups.
At the height of the Civil War in 1863, armed mobs took to the streets of
Manhattan in protest of President Lincoln's federal draft order. The mob of
poor white laborers ultimately directed their wrath toward African
Americans, who as noncitizens were exempted from the draft and competed with
poor whites for the lowest-paying jobs.
African Americans were lynched and beaten in the streets, and a black church
and a black orphanage were burned to the ground. The Civil War draft riots
claimed at least 105 lives.
After Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, President
Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of
112,000 residents of Japanese descent, two-thirds of whom were U.S.
citizens, according to the Los Angeles Times.
More recently, in the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Arab
communities in the United States were harassed. However, the public soon
learned that the person responsible for the bombing was Timothy McVeigh, a
27-year-old white male. Yet no one suggested that the government harass and
target the nation's young white men on the grounds that they pose a threat
to national security.
So, why are Arabs and Muslims branded as terrorists?
"The American popular culture has been poisoned by the vicious racism of
Hollywood and the op-ed pages of American newspapers," according to Hussein
Ibish, communications director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination
Committee. "Arabs and Muslims have been portrayed in movies and TV in almost
exclusively negative terms, as terrorists or oil sheiks. We have been
telling the entertainment industry for years that if they refused to show
any positive or neutral Arab or Muslim characters, this could lead under the
right circumstances to a rash of hate crimes."
Ibish's sentiments are confirmed by recent polls. A Gallup Poll found that
58 percent of Americans supported more intensive airport security checks for
Arab passengers, even those who are citizens, and 49 percent supported
special identification. A Zogby poll presented a more positive view of Arab
Americans, with 62 percent of Americans holding a favorable opinion of Arab
Americans, although 38 percent of its respondents believed that Islam
In both polls, African Americans, the primary targets of racial profiling by
police, were ironically the group most in favor of intensive security
measures for Arab Americans.
Americans cannot respond to terrorism by inflicting their own brand of
terror on fellow citizens and residents, simply because they are or appear
to be members of a particular ethnic, racial or religious group. The
singling out of people based on ethnicity or looks must stop now.
David A. Love is a public-interest scholar at the University of Pennsylvania
Law School. He contributed to the book "States of Confinement: Policing,
Detention and Prisons" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). He can be reached at
© David A. Love